It’s come to my attention that we, as writers on our glorious sport, take it for granted readers are fully fledged in cricket terminology. Were we to purely target existing cricket fans then our reach would be too short, our depth too shallow. Instead we must look to the non-cricket populous, draw them into our sandpaper strewn den and make them understand the nuances of a game dubbed ‘boring’ by millions of people. If Andrew Strauss and the ECB propose a faster, louder and brasher format, reaching out to ‘mums and kids’ who don’t know anything about cricket, then this ‘Dummy’s Guide To Cricket’ is unofficial ECB propaganda doing the same. Prepare for ‘The 100’ most ridiculous facts about cricket. Where better to begin than with its past…
History & Heritage
Right, in the first part of our ‘Dummy’s Guide To Cricket’ I’m going to start with the very basics. Invented in 1611, cricket was first played when Lord Humphrey Warbington-Warbington became over zealous in a gentleman’s game of bowls. Claiming that his arch rival, Sir Montague Primmington III was tampering with the bowling ball by rubbing goose fat over it, Humph stood over the jack brandishing a wooden broom and swatted away Primmington’s effort. Connecting with a resounding ‘thwack’ the ball ran off the broom and into the flower boundary surrounding the green. So pleased was he that Warbington-Warbington promptly raised his broom in celebration before delivering a one fingered salute to Primmington, whose moustache bristled in aggravation. A primitive form of cricket was thus born, initially called ‘Gentlemen’s Balls’ with points being awarded for protecting the jack and hitting the ball as far over the flower bed as possible.
Such was its popularity many bowls clubs lost their license and converted to the exciting new format. However, with the execution of Charles I in 1649, the fledgling game was banned under Oliver Cromwell’s puritanical regime, for promoting ‘giddy excitement and boisterous fun.’ After it’s re-installation in 1660, ‘Cricket’ as it was now called, was toned down and played over the course of five days, instead of three hours, promoting a more restrained attitude. It became a social occasion, with lunch and tea breaks so the upper classes might enjoy a sport more suited to their extravagant tastes. This continued for 344 years.
Balls & Bails
It soon became clear the old fashioned ‘bowls’ ball was far too light and brightly coloured for batsmen to hit and so in 1815 the red ball we see in use today was invented. Named after the Duke of Wellington the ‘Dukes’ ball is fashioned from cork, covered in leather and shined, producing a ‘cherry’ appearance. The hard exterior was inspired by British cannonballs annihilating French troops during the Battle of Waterloo, for at this stage in cricket it was felt the batsmen had the advantage.
Statistics uncovered by our dummies guide, reveal this ball was first used in a match played at Chatsworth House, where eight of the home batting line up were seriously injured; three broken arms, two broken spines; two shattered skulls and one destroyed pelvis the injury count. In addition, twenty four of the newly installed glass windows were also smashed. Far from being a disaster though, the ‘Dukes’ ball was heralded as a way of levelling out the battle between bowler and batsman. Bails were introduced to appease indignant batsman who felt the game had become unjust, meaning instead of only being out if he missed the ball, a batsman’s bails had to be dislodged. This went some way to alleviate their fears, however since the introduction of this hard, cannonball like weapon, relationships between batsman and bowler have only worsened.
Overs & Outs
Next up in ‘The Dummy’s Guide To Cricket’ we reveal how a unique way of separating different bowlers occurred at the turn of the 20th century. A bowler by the name of Wesley Grace, playing for his local side against a touring French team, bowled the greatest ball ever seen in three hundred years of cricket. Reports of the occasion tell it was in bowling his sixth ball that, ‘he pounced up to the wicket like a panther, turned to his side, swung his arms like a windmill and released the most frightening ball I’ve ever seen. It pitched well outside off stump but then wobbled, inexorably, like an arrow turning flight to clip the top of middle stump and send it hurtling out of the ground. The batsman who had been raising his bat to leave could only blink in astonishment as his innings ended. We gaped in awe.’
Up until this moment in history a bowler only stopped when he was too tired to continue, with the most memorable occurring in 1760-1820 when, during the entirety of George III’s reign, Sam Steele of Northamptonshire did not stop bowling. He is the only bowler to have died in action. Wes Grace’s corker of a delivery though caused the French captain, Jean-Paul Hamster to declare, ‘Zat is pure oeuvre. It will not be bettered.’ This translates as; ‘That is pure artwork. It will not be bettered.’ And so Wes stopped bowling for his oeuvre was over.
Snoozing & Slogging
Up until the roaring 1920’s, cricket had a very simple scoring system. Anything the batsman hit they could score points for, by running between the wickets. This approach meant the game was exceptionally easy to follow and the highest individual score recorded was 125 by Lucas Willis of Warwickshire.
All that changed though when, in a bid to attract new followers and catch up with football and rugby, a brand new scoring system reared its head in 1922. This saw batsmen being rewarded for hitting the ball harder and further, rather than the beauty of their shot selection. A rope now encircled the ground, signifying a ‘boundary.’ Plucking random, easy to understand, even numbers meant if the ball rolled into the rope, 4 runs would be signalled by the umpire. Initially a signal of one hand raised with four fingers splayed was considered accurate, however due to sight complications from scorers on the boundary, a stroking motion was put in place. Although spectators wrote strongly worded letters to the newspapers complaining of being ‘weirded out’ by a man in a white coat and hat stroking an imaginary pet, the action stuck.
Over time television umpires created their own, unique way of demonstrating 4 runs, many looking like extras from ‘Grease.’ Anything to provide some summer lovin’. Furthermore a shot struck in the air over the boundary constituted a ‘6,’ an idea which drew complaints from spectators for ‘Health and Safety’ reasons. In its first year of usage, 150,000 fans were injured by a ‘6,’ with 15,000 knocked out. Only through promise of a marching band striking up if a ‘6’ was hit, were the crowd pacified; something which continues today. A shot into the crowd has become known as a ‘slog,’ an acronym standing for ‘Snoozing? Look Out Genius.’
Ducks & Draws
The term ‘Duck’ or ‘Golden Duck’ was introduced during the First World War where cricket was played in the trenches. It describes a batsman being out for zero, with the latter highlighting the fact that he is out facing his first ball. The term was coined when soldiers brazenly remarked they were like ‘sitting ducks’ in no man’s land. A batsman out for zero is thus like a ‘sitting duck’ for the bowler. It was the Germans who christened the phrase ‘Golden Duck,’ as in the famous Christmas Day Cricket Match of 1914 their opening bowler, Hans Up, bowled Britain’s top three batsman with their first ball; his hair was blonde and the phrase stuck.
As you’ll have noticed by now in our ‘Dummy’s Guide To Cricket’ we have a very unique history combined with random rules, none more so than the ability of a match to be played over five days and still end in a draw. This cases great consternation to cricket haters (mostly overweight Americans) who simply cannot get their head around the fact you can go that long with neither side emerging victorious. It’s as insane to them as eating broccoli is (gee why you munching on a tree). The truth is, this is the one part of cricket’s history which I’m unable to shed any light on. The mysteries of a test match ending in a draw will I believe, never fully be uncovered. They are like the lost ark of the covenant; too mysterious to find, too powerful to understand.
Rumours passed down through hushed stories told round fireplaces, tell of how in the early days of ‘Gentlemen’s Balls’ matches would often last as long as three weeks, with a draw never considered an option. Such honour was at stake that the game was only ever won or lost. The longest reported cricket match was in India in 1837, which lasted 212 days, only broken up by the monsoon rains. What we do know is that cricket is unique in being the longest sport to last over four days and still end with neither team winning. Something we shall never be able to understand.
That concludes the first five facts of ‘The Dummy’s Guide To Cricket,’ where I have sought to expand our game to a wider audience by relating its history. If you’re new to cricket then I welcome you with open arms and look forward to teaching you more about our beautiful game. And that, is a home run.